Italian GP qualifying: Hamilton takes 94th career pole as Sainz impresses

Lewis Hamilton took his 94th career pole and his seventh at Monza on Saturday afternoon after pipping Bottas in a very close fight. The English driver took pole by 0.069 seconds after putting in a mega lap in the second stint of Q3. He now has 68 poles with Mercedes alone which equals Michael Schumacher’s all-time career poles.

2020 Italian Grand Prix, Saturday – LAT Images

Carlos Sainz put in the biggest performance in qualifying after driving a mega lap to put his McLaren in third place on the grid. His luck seems to have at least turned around for qualifying, and whether it will turn around for the race is yet to be seen. His teammate Lando Norris put the other McLaren on the third row in sixth after a very good effort.

Carlos Sainz, McLaren MCL35

In what was an unusual happening, Max Verstappen failed to make it to the second row on a Saturday after what seems to be an effect of FIA’s decision of not using higher engine modes for qualifying. The Dutchman will be starting on the third row in fifth and will have some work to do for a podium place unlike the last few races where it was a very straightforward affair. His teammate Alex Albon is set to start from ninth position after yet another underwhelming qualifying.

Sergio Perez put in another stellar qualifying performance after putting himself on the second row alongside Carlos Sainz in fourth. The Mexican will be keen to make great use of the track position to challenge for the podium considering how well the Racing Point handles itself around Monza and the threat of Max Verstappen is not at its highest around this place. His teammate Lance Stroll will be lining up alongside Daniel Ricciardo on the fourth row in eighth place. Pierre Gasly made it to Q3 yet again continuing his impressive form but failed to make any inroads into the session and will have to settle for 10th place on the grid.

It was a Q3 without the drama of last year where eight of ten cars failed to make it to the starting line before the flag because all the teams decided to come out and register lap times with more than 5 minutes to go in the session. It was however not a session without drama as Q1 was quite a hassle after everyone was tripping over each other to put in a quick lap and take advantage of the slipstream.

It all started off when the Alfa Romeo cars tried to overtake everyone in front of them on the outlap which ended up in compromising everybody’s laps. At the front of it all, Esteban Ocon was racing Kimi Raikkonen towards the first chicane, trying to cover the inside while George Russell had to try and stay away from there to not compromise his own lap. This turned into a chain reaction when Vettel had his lap compromised as well thanks to the events unfolding infront of him. In the frantic second stint of Q1, both the Williams, Vettel in the Ferrari, Giovinazzi in Alfa Romeo and Grosjean in the Haas were all knocked out, with some of them quite vocal on the team radio expressing their anguish at how things went about.

GP ITALIA F1/2020 – VENERDÌ 04/09/2020
credit: @Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Q2 did not serve up any similar sort of drama apart from the continuation of woes of the home team Ferrari. The Tifosi would not be minding not being in the grandstands after yet another disastrous Saturday saw them qualify with Leclerc in 13th and Vettel in 17th. An exhausted Leclerc was out on the radio at the end of Q2 saying this was the best he could do and it was evident with the kind of lap he put in. The pace just doesn’t seem to be there for the Italy-based team and they will not have much to hope for the race tomorrow.

Esteban Ocon has been called to the stewards for his Q1 antics where he blocked Raikkonen and the rest and it has to be seen whether there will be any action taken. As of now he lines up 12th on the grid alongside Danil Kvyat in the Alpha Tauri in 11th.

George Russell (GBR) Williams Racing FW43.
Italian Grand Prix, Saturday 5th September 2020. Monza Italy.

George Russell will not be making it into Q2 after a good run following the drama in Q1 and will be lining up on the last row in 19th next to his teammate Nicolas Latifi in 20th in what will be the last race as team principal for Claire Williams. Both the Haas cars will line up with Magnussen in 15th and Grosjean in 16th.

With Mercedes clear of the field, it is very clear who will have the biggest advantage in terms of winning the race but the fight for podium is set to be interesting considering McLaren and Racing Point seem to have a better car compared to Red Bull Honda at least in qualifying. The midfield battle is set to be intriguing as well considering Renault will start further behind compared to their expected positions, which should give us an exciting Grand Prix to look forward to.

 

Feature Image Courtesy of  Steve Etherington/Mercedes Media

Super Max again? Spanish Grand Prix Preview

At the beginning of 2020, the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona was set to be round number six of the 71st world championship season in the sport’s history. Now, 96 days after it was supposed to be held, it will still be round six.

Never, after pre-season testing in February at the same track, did anyone imagine that it would take this long for the F1 circus to return to Cataluña, or that the F1 season would be as altered and impacted as it has been – but F1 belatedly returns for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Haas’ Romain Grosjean at pre-season testing in Barcelona

The 4.6 kilometre circuit has seen 29 Formula One races, and only 10 times has the pole-sitter failed to win the race. Therefore, you would get the feeling that qualifying would be pretty important this weekend.

Cue Mercedes whose five pole positions from the first five races have once again symbolised a dominant car. Lewis Hamilton has established a 30-point lead in the world championship, but the champions did not have it their own way last time out at the 70th anniversary Grand Prix in Silverstone.

Red Bull’s Dutch sensation Max Verstappen produced a clinic in tyre conservation and consistency as he steered his car to victory following an exceptional strategy by the Red Bull team.

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 09: Race winner Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing walks with Second placed Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP with their trophies after the F1 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone on August 09, 2020 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Will Oliver/Pool via Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool // AP-24VYR9KC11W11 // Usage for editorial use only //

It is also a circuit that will be naturally tough on the tyres. Mercedes’ strife over the two weekends in Northamptonshire saw Hamilton take a narrow win after a last-lap puncture. A puncture for Bottas saw him fail to score points in the British Grand Prix, and he lost the win and second place from pole position. He knows he needs to string together some strong weekends in order to propel himself back into championship contention.

2020 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

It all came on a day Verstappen claimed he would not have enough to challenge the Silver Arrows, and we now arrive at a circuit that where the team is expected to flourish. Complete with tricky, high speed corners and few straights, Red Bull will know that Spain is a wonderful opportunity to take their second consecutive victory, and the team’s fourth there since 2010.

A special mention also goes to Carlos Sainz, who enters his sixth home Grand Prix. He looks to become the second Spanish race winner in Barcelona after Fernando Alonso’s two victories – the second of which was in 2013 for Ferrari. Sainz did not manage any points in Silverstone due to puncture and pit-stop dramas and will be looking for a bounce-back this weekend.

BARCELLONA ( SPAGNA ) 12/05/2013
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO X FERRARI

But it is all eyes on Red Bull and Super Max, as they look to once again take the fight to Mercedes at the front at the circuit where Verstappen took his first ever victory in 2016.

 

Feature Image courtesy of Red Bull content Pool

Hungarian Grand Prix – Hammer time

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, dominated the wet-dry conditions Hungarian Grand Prix.  The British champion, claimed the pole on Saturday’s qualifying session and had an easy Sunday afternoon.

The drama in Hungary started early, more specifically while the drivers were driving to the grid, Max Verstappen crashed into the barriers at turn 12, the track was wet and the drivers were on intermediate tyres. Red Bull’s mechanics urgently repaired Max’s car and that allowed him to start the race from the seventh position.

At the start, Valtteri Bottas moved before lights out and that was the reason why he stopped immediately, for a few seconds, which cost him position and allowed Stroll to jump ahead, behind  Lewis Hamilton.

Verstappen and Vettel had a good start, Max placed third and Vettel fourth.

The track was drying off, on the third lap Bottas and Leclerc pitted for slicks, the Finn rejoined on mediums whilst Charles swapped to softs. A risky move by Ferrari, which didn’t pay off, Leclerc was struggling a lot with the soft tyres, he was complaining to his team on the team-radio. On the following lap, Hamilton, Stroll and Vettel pitted for mediums.

Haas, started both Magnussen and Grosjean on slicks. Their strategy was smart and after the chaotic period with the pit stops, Kevin was third and Romain fourth.  The happiness in Haas’ garage didn’t last long, Stroll passed both Haas’ drivers and moved up to the third place.

Leclerc, couldn’t follow the pace of the rest of the drivers, Albon was right behind Charle’s car on lap 14 and was trying to pass Ferrari and move up to the seventh position. Alex requested extra power from Red Bull and overtook Charles on lap 18.

It was obvious that Ferrari had to protect Leclerc. They called him into the pits for the hard tyres on lap 21 and returned on the track on the 15th position.

More rain was expected during the race, teams started calling their drivers into the pits for fresher tyres, some drops appeared on the track but that was not enough to affect the strategy of the teams.

Mercedes went for the undercut to give the opportunity to Bottas to overtake Stroll for the third place. Lance Stroll pitted a couple of laps later and rejoined behind the Mercedes.

Bottas was closing to Verstappen for the second place, on lap 50 the Finn pitted again for the hard tyres. He rejoined behind Verstappen but he had fresher tyres. Bottas was pushing until the end of the race, he managed to reduce the gap but he didn’t get the chance to make a move on Max for the second place.

Lewis Hamilton pitted for softs in order to secure the fastest lap of the race and score the extra point. Lewis was not challenged at all during the race and secured an easy victory, the second one this season and 86th in total.

 

F1 Winter Testing: Round-Up

Formula 1 Pre-Season testing got underway in Barcelona this morning with a healthy mix of old and new faces racking up the laps. Rookies Lando Norris and Alex Albon for McLaren and Toro Rosso were first out on track.

Albon had the marshals on their toes after causing the first red-flag of the session, one minute after lights went green. Albon’s Toro Rosso was sat in the gravel facing the wrong way after having lost it upon exiting Turn four, and after a 20-minute recovery from the marshals, we got back into the session.

Both Ferrari and Mercedes were keen to begin testing the harder tyres this morning, running the C1, starting at a slightly slower pace than the previous day. After Bottas’s morning test yesterday, it was the turn of Hamilton to set an early alarm, and by 8:20am he had set the first time of the day at 1:32s.

Ferrari’s new driver Charles Leclerc got in the seat for the first time, initially taking a steady approach to handling his new car by setting a 1:42. He picked up the pace pretty quickly after that though, going from the bottom to the top of the table by setting a more-than-respectable 1:19 and showing the world he can match the pace of his teammate Sebastian Vettel. Vettel has already gone on record in considering Leclerc a ‘full rival … He got the seat for a reason and I’ve got to take him very seriously’. With a personal best of 1:18.2 this morning, it’s difficult to view Leclerc in any other way.

After Verstappen’s impressive performance yesterday, Red Bull’s number two driver Pierre Gasly took to the wheel for the first time at just after 8:30am, sharing the track with Alfa Romeo’s number two, Antonio Giovinazzi. Gasly put in a steady first lap on C3 tyres with a 1:37.5, before picking up the pace and putting in a 1:22, and a 1:21 shortly after. Giovinazzi puts in a 1:24 and continues to improve, achieving a 1:20 after 22 laps.

Like Hamilton, Ricciardo was also back in the driver’s seat this morning following yesterday’s afternoon session. Ricciardo’s Renault matched the pace of Red Bull and Gasly lap after lap, as both cars achieved a respectable 1:21s.

Meanwhile, it looked to be yet another slow start for Racing Point this morning after yesterday’s arguably disappointing session. The team managed to rack up a meagre 30 test laps across the whole day. Performance Engineering Director Tom McCullough summarised the day; ‘We had some teething problems, which caused us some downtime across the day, and a small oil leak, but nothing overly concerning’.

McCullough explained the teams aim for today’s session, focusing on aero data collection and giving Lance Stroll an opportunity to experience his new car, however by 8:50am, Stroll had only managed two installation laps. By 9:05am, Stroll had achieved his first timed lap, managing a 1:29 on C3 tyres. His pace improved quite quickly with a 1:21.6, coming second on the timing sheets over Hamilton’s 1:24.6. Stroll surpassed his teammates efforts yesterday, completing 45 laps before lunchtime.

Perhaps a little dubious to appear on track too early this morning, Kevin Magnussen and Haas finally ventured out to do an installation lap on intermediate tyres, before returning to the pits. Magnussen was back on track after 35 minutes in the garage, putting in his first flying lap of 1:23.4. He continued to build on this by following it with a 1:21.9, and a 1:21.6 moving ahead of Albon’s Toro Rosso.

Magnussen spent a further 20 minutes in the garage; the Haas social media team describing it as an ‘extended stay’, offering no indication of why the team have put in so few laps this morning.

Ricciardo’s Renault decided to spice up the morning by parting ways with its rear wing while using DRS, causing him to spin off track and into the gravel. Miraculously he managed to get the car out without causing a second red-flag in the session.

The lunch break came and went with some teams opting for a driver change, namely Mercedes and Renault. Bottas was the first man on track, followed closely by Charles Leclerc for Ferrari. Leclerc was the first man to break the 100-lap benchmark, followed by rookie Alex Albon for Toro Rosso.

Nico Hulkenberg settled down to test his Renault for a race distance and continued to knock out lap times in the 1:20s. Hulkenberg didn’t manage to top the timesheets, however Renault seem to have found consistent timing and distance of greater value than fastest car on track. He did eventually break free of the monotony and started pushing the car just a little bit, managing a personal best of 1:20.3 which put him in 8thposition.

Pierre Gasly spun out going in to turn 12 with only an hour and a half left on the clock. Though the damage didn’t look overly disastrous, it was a sorry end to Gasly’s otherwise smooth and steady session.

Pietro Fittipaldi took to the wheel in place of Kevin Magnussen who was forced to retire from the race early due to a seat-fit issue, which could explain the frequent ‘extended stays’ K-Mag was having in the morning session. Fittipaldi managed a total of 13 laps before the end of the session.

Sadly, we heard very little from Williams today. It is thought they will be arriving with the car very early tomorrow morning, with a view to joining in the testing tomorrow lunchtime.

McLaren are continuing to play the come-back kid by coming second only to Ferrari on the timing sheet. It’s an extremely positive start for the team, but ultimately Ferrari stole the show once again, taking fastest lap for the second day in a row (a 1:18.2) along with a healthy distance on track. With 157 laps under his belt, Leclerc has taken thorough advantage of his opportunity to get used to his new car.Image courtesy of Pirelli Motorsports

Testing continues tomorrow.

F1 Winter Testing: Day One Round-Up

Barcelona enjoyed the dulcet tones of multiple V6 engines today, as the first session of winter testing finally got under way.

Alfa Romeo were awake bright and early to reveal their car and livery – becoming the final team to do so – before Kimi Raikkonen took it out for a quick spin (literally), getting stuck in the gravel in the first 15 minutes of the session.

Red Bull’s social media team were also up early do a second ‘reveal’, showing off the traditional matte livery they have used over the past four years and disappointing fans that had grown fond of the shakedown livery they had initially debuted.

Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari began taking the challenge to Mercedes early doors, putting in an impressive number of laps and topping the timing sheet with an eyebrow-raising 1m18. The same success could not be said of Ferrari’s sub-team Haas; Romain Grosjean was forced to pull over on track, causing a red flag after a couple of successful installation laps due to fuel pressure loss. At least Haas’s mechanics weren’t short of work to do!

At the lunchtime break, Vettel remained at the top of the timesheets with a 1m18 and an impressive 72 laps. Just behind him was Perez in the Racing Point car with a 1m19, and Bottas with a 1m20. While Ferrari seemed keen to display their might early on, Mercedes clearly felt no pressure to respond so early in the session.

Ferrari Media

The session recommenced at 2pm and although some teams chose to test with the same driver, others decided to make the swap and we saw five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton take the wheel for the first time since the shakedown at Silverstone last Friday.

Hamilton put in a healthy number of laps, most of them running in the 1m20 range, once again feeling absolutely no pressure to be topping the timing sheets just yet.

There was a slightly hair-raising moment for McLaren when Carlos Sainz’s car stopped at the end of the pit lane causing the third red flag of the day. McLaren were quick to redeem themselves though, managing to run an impressive 119 laps, staying comfortably in the 1m20s, and even managing to come second to Vettel’s Ferrari with a respectable 1:18.5. It’s an optimistic start for a team that has suffered a great deal of disappointment in previous seasons.

On the theme of disappointment, more sad news came from the Williams garage. After being unable to complete a planned shake-down on Saturday, and announcing they would not be taking part in today’s testing, a further announcement came after lunch confirming they would not be able to take part in testing until Wednesday ‘at the earliest’.

Deputy team boss Claire Williams described the delay as ‘extremely disappointing’, and indeed with Robert Kubica taking a seat this season after an eight-year hiatus from F1, it is disappointing to delay his anticipated return even further.

Daniel Ricciardo made his debut for Renault this afternoon after his teammate Nico Hulkenberg had a positive morning, describing the car as “the best I’ve seen at Renault”, which is a promising hint for what is to come. Both commentators and fans are slowly getting used to seeing Danny in a black and yellow race suit, this didn’t faze Danny who put in a respectable 44 laps, making Renault one of five teams that have surpassed the 100-lap milestone today.

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Renault Sport F1 Team RS19.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Monday 18th February 2019. Barcelona, Spain.

There was an interesting moment in the last hour of the session between Hamilton and Kvyat in the Toro Rosso, as Kvyat pushed Hamilton to work to overtake him. After a couple of laps and pointing out the nose of the Mercedes car, Hamilton was forced to back off as he was unable to complete the manoeuvre, which begs the question: do the front-wing changes help or hinder Mercedes performance?

Kimi Raikkonen was his usual charismatic self before completing 114 laps in the freshly unveiled Alfa Romeo car, going into the test with the aim of getting a ‘more real picture of the car’, but with the unintentional aim of causing the final red-flag of the day, one minute before the end of the session.

Today was unquestionably Ferrari’s day with Vettel putting in a whopping 169 laps and remaining quickest throughout the whole session with a 1:18.1. Second came Carlos Sainz in the McLaren with a 1:18.5 and Grosjean with a 1:19.1 in spite of only completing 65 laps before stopping on track earlier in the session.

Overall though, the theme for today was getting a feel for the car and putting the laps in; no exciting racing just yet, but it’s a promising start for the 2019 season.

 

[Featured image – Dan Istitene/Getty Images]

Ferrari’s year turned into Ferrari’s nightmare

Photo credit: Ferrari Media Site

My name is Dimitris Bizas, I am from Greece, and I study Communication, Media and Culture at Panteion University. I have been writing about Formula 1 since 2012, firstly at totalracing.gr and, for the past 18 months, for the ‘4Wheels’ magazine. Motorsport is my passion and getting to write and report on it is a true blessing.

2018 was supposed to be Ferrari’s year: they built a good, competitive at any given Sunday car, they had Sebastian Vettel at his prime and they carried with them a year’s worth of experience in title battles, from their 2017 campaign. However, they seem to have failed to capitalize on their chances once again, and the reason is simple, but not so obvious.

Let’s start from the very beginning of this season, the Australian Grand Prix. Ferrari did the unexpected, with Sebastian Vettel winning a race which Hamilton led up until the Safety Car, having taken a remarkable pole position the day before. They continued their winning ways at Bahrain, they were held up by the Red Bulls at China, and then came the first real ‘wake-up call’ for Vettel and his team: the Baku incident.

He could be on the podium, on the second or third place, hadn’t he been in such a hurry to overtake the Mercedes boys. He was somewhat lucky that he did not end up on the barriers at the exit of Turn 1, taking the checkered flag 4th.

This was the first sign of his lack of composure under pressure. But, since it was so early in the season, it didn’t affect his championship aspirations, despite the fact that his arch-rival, Lewis Hamilton, took his maiden 2018 win that day.

Fast forward to France, and Vettel has just taken a commanding victory on Hamilton’s ‘second home’, at Montreal. He grabbed a truly unbelievable pole on Saturday (sing of his confidence at that point of the season), and he went on to win, reminding to his nemesis that 2018 is not a 2017 repeat.

Of course, this feeling of superiority against Hamilton was short-lived. Paul Ricard marked the first of a series of mistakes from Vettel – mistakes that ultimately cost him the world title. He got off the line brilliantly, before hitting Bottas from behind, losing place after place, and finishing only 5th – a result far from representative for his overall performance that weekend.

Then there was Germany and his biggest mistake of his career, probably. That was the first turning point for his campaign – losing 25 points, in front of his home crowd, and seeing his rival taking the win instead, was a huge blow, not only for his team, but also for his confidence. Sebastian Vettel is and has

always been a driver whose performance is affected completely from his morale. If he is elevated and on a roll, he seems unstoppable, invincible. However, a single race gone bad can make him vulnerable, prone to mistakes. It is as if a huge weight is put to his shoulders, and this year, that weight is all the expectations from within his team and from the hundreds of thousands of Tifosi. It is not an easy task.

The final nail on his title hopes’ coffin was put at the Italian and the Singapore Grand Prix. His spin at Variante della Roggia and the crucial mistake during the FP2 at Marina Bay were the ones which gave Hamilton a huge advantage, both on the standings, and on the ‘psychological war’, as he calls it. He now stands 67 points ahead of Vettel, and Austin could be the place where he will have both hands on his 5th world championship.

Ferrari’s fault on this run

Although it is easy to point fingers and proclaim that Vettel lost the title on his own, Ferrari has been subpar when the stakes were extremely high.

One of their biggest weaknesses is the consistency they do not show during the season, not only on the track, but also back at the factory. Keeping a respectable –nay, a competitive- level of performance during the span of 21 races is crucial for the title battle, and the Maranello squad has not met the standards of their rivals, Mercedes.

Both at Brackley and at Brixworth, work was done in order to close the gap from the dominant –as it stood in the first 1/3 of the season- SF71H. The disadvantage on the power unit area and the tire management were the two main factor that held the Germans back, and they made a remarkable job recovering from a deficit on and off track. This allowed Hamilton to push harder, to build his confidence with the car, and ultimately to win one race after the other.

On the other hand, Ferrari made some marginal gains over the summer, and all their upgrades after the summer break were not what they expected. They fell back when their rivals pushed forward, got ahead of them and tried to stay there.

Even if Vettel was perfect (which is highly unlikely in such a lengthy season), his team would have failed on him. Stagnation is a poison for every F1 team, especially in such a hard-fought battle.

The bottom line is that the Ferrari-Vettel combination lost another chance to make history, to bring the crown back to Italy after 11 years. The legacy of this cooperation is still a work in progress, and if these two years are just the beginning, they have time to improve, to learn from their mistakes and

mishaps. But, if this was their final chance (and that’s a big hypothesis), then History will not be lenient with them.

Dimitris Bizas

Driver Ratings: Baku Does it Again!

Azerbaijan never ceases to amaze, I am unsure whether this beats 2017’s race which was amazing to watch. Lady luck was on a few driver’s side today, we’ll look in deeper detail at who had it in the rating review. As per always the rating will be done in results order.

Lewis Hamilton – 7

Lady luck was most definitely on his side today, he took longer to turn the tyres on unlike Vettel who led early on. He made some uncharacteristic mistakes especially at the first corner flat spotting both tyres he told pit wall the tyres were finished so had no choice but to change strategy and pit. The pace on the fresher yellow softs was slow but then the safety car came into play. He was gifted the win with misfortune of others.

Kimi Raikkonen – 7

Kimi being Kimi, you wouldn’t really remember he is a World Champion from 2007. He’s being used to a certain extent as a clear number two driver to Vettel. It all went wrong on Saturday with Ferrari only bringing one set of super softs he had to make one lap count, he didn’t do so. This forced him onto another strategy for Sunday. A silly collision on the first lap when he could of let off the throttle easily damaged his car, no penalty surprisingly, as others fell by the way side he took an unexpected second.

Sergio Perez – 9

Ever the opportunist, now the most successful Mexican driver in Formula 1 history and most successful at Baku in terms of podium finishes. Force India looked strong all weekend with their Mercedes grunt. Great pass on wounded Vettel along the straight. The catalyst the fourth placed team from 2017 need to push on this year?

Sebastian Vettel – 8

Go big or go home from the German, he took advantage of the safety car in Australia but this race it hindered him as we look at in a moment. A great flying lap for pole and early race from the quadruple champion. He pulled a clear lead out after the first safety car. He got a lacklustre restart from the second safety car and went for it on the brakes but with such a long straight they went cold, locked up and ran wide. He lost places rather than gaining, and dropped to P4, with then Perez getting him in the later laps due to his massive flat spot. The Ferrari was strongest all weekend, did he really have to go for it at the first attempt he had?

Carlos Sainz – 8

Flying the flag for Renault today for the first half of the race had they had the third best package. He got by the Red Bulls well and then pulled clear. When they got up to speed he kept up with them. He pitted early as started on the ultra softs and continued well to finish solidly in the points. Pretty much the reason why Renault ‘loaned’ the Spaniard from Red Bull this season.

Charles Leclerc – 9

The reason why Ferrari rate this driver highly was shown today as he scores his first World Championship points in P6. He did better than most turning on the super softs and had great pace from his impressive qualifying managing to keep Raikkonen at bay after the first restart. He would of still scored points even if others finished, he just got a few more as result. Great for the Sauber team to have points but more importantly a talent like Leclerc behind the wheel of one of their cars.

Fernando Alonso – 8

The character and grit that Alonso showed today was the reason why everyone rates him so highly. To begin with he got the McLaren round a near 2 minute lap with 2 wheels shod car into the pits with minimal damage. There was some to the floor of the car as a result but still managed to score decent points for the team. Good battle with fellow countryman Sainz today. Worth every penny to Mclaren once again.

Lance Stroll – 8

A happy hunting ground for the Canadian, after taking advantage of the 2017 race and scoring an unlikely podium, he scored his and the team’s first points this season. Great confidence booster for him and the team. He had the pace with the Mercedes power and good racecraft to finish in the points.

Stoffel Vandoorne – 6

Stoffel was off colour this weekend, but took advantage of others to finish in the low end of the points but also once again Alonso was on average a few tenths quicker than him all weekend. He continues to pile pressure on himself regardless of a points finish today, Lando Norris is looking pretty nifty in Formula 2.

Brendan Hartley – 6

The Kiwi has scored his first point in Formula 1. He had a very unorthodox way of entering the sport last year and has taken him a while to adjust, some say he still is and was the fortunate today. Bad driving on Saturday as he didn’t set a lap and his team mate nearly went flying over the top of him. He drove better on Sunday.

Marcus Ericcson – 6

Marcus was in the shadow of his team mate today, a collision on the first lap turn 2 restricted his performance. He received a penalty for the collision and was clearly at fault, no excuses. He flat spotted tyres which also ruined the strategy he was on halfway through the race. The car was good over the weekend which should give him confidence Bahrain can happen again.

Pierre Gasly – 7

He showed great racecraft on Sunday, and reactions on Saturday. He thought that he was going into the wall after coming across his team mate but managed to keep it away with lightning reactions. With yellows like his team mate he didn’t set a representitve lap time. The race was different all be it he has nothing to show from it, he managed to get up as high as P7 in the race after carving through the field’s destruction on lap 1. An out and out racer, battled with former rival Leclerc which was good to see. He was involved in a collision with Magnussen which prevented the attack for points as he had the pace.

Kevin Magnussen – 6

K-Mag was in the wars on Sunday after a tough qualifying. A short run to the 90 degree corners and being in the middle of the pack increases chances of collisions. He collided with Ericcson at turn 2 which ended his chance of a good finish at that stage. A further collision with Gasly after the second restart then ended his chance of points. Later reprimanded with 2 penalty points, 12 is the amount before a ban, at this current time he is on 8 in the 12 month period. Most dangerous driver Gasly has ever raced according to the Frenchman. An off colour performance to such a great start to the season.

Valterri Bottas – 8

He was on for a win with Mercedes but you could say poor marshalling and debris still scattered over the track resulted in his dramatic retirement. It was through no fault of his own. He managed the gap all race and was consistent, and midway was fastest driver. He made no mistakes throughout. Due to staying out longest he used the safety car to continue to lead. He then restarted well and pulled away but ran over debris which caused a dramatic puncture at around 180mph, forcing him to retire with only a handful of laps remaining. Great weekend but nothing to show for it, joy for one of the Silver Arrows but despair for the other.

Romain Grosjean – 5

Grosjean seemed to be in 2017 mood, very emotional and spins aplenty with one really silly. He was hindered by a gearbox problem in qualifying which resulted him starting last. He kept his nose clean driving through the mess and was on for good points. Every driver was struggling for tyre temperature. He tried to warm the tyres up behind the second safety car by weaving and too much the Frenchman hit the wall at slow speed, throwing away first points of the season ironically at the time putting Magnussen into the points. Bad day at the office.

Max Verstappen – 5

His fault or not but Max has now collided with other drivers 3 times in 4 races, beginning to remind me of the great Pastor Maldonado. He was playing with fire all race long with his team mate, great spacial awareness but sometimes a bit too aggressive with squeezes and double direction changes defending. He couldn’t get the red walled super soft tyre switched on early in the race resulting in both Renault passing him. Battery issues may of slowed his pace but the issue between team mates was brewing all race long. Once more a retirement and hefty bill for Red Bull to pay.

Daniel Ricciardo – 5

The high of Shanghai two weeks ago to the despair of Baku. He struggled to get by his team mate as the over powered DRS with gusty winds helped him dramatically. Various occasions the driver supposedly best on the brakes had his car side by side with his team mate but only pulled it off a few laps prior to the pit stop. He had better pace than Max at a track he did great on last year. Multiple times he was on the outside centimetres from the wall and multiple lock ups. He lost out to the overcut but with the warmer rubber from far back he tried to get by but went straight into the back of his team mate. The worst thing you can do in motorsport! Red Bull blame both drivers which you can understand, but much like Vettel did he have to go for it? Plenty of laps were remaining. There is talk of Ricciardo going to Ferrari with contracts ending for various drivers, not the first time he colliding with his team mate maybe sway his mind to leave the Austrian outfit?

Nico Hulkenburg – 5

With how the race played out, Nico could of finally got on the podium! He still waits to taste the champagne after being close on multiple occasions. He lost the car on his own accord after getting by the poor paced Red Bulls. Renault looked like the fourth best car. He needs to keep concentration as with more mental races and no mistakes from the German, he could be that podium soon.

Esteban Ocon – 7

A passenger in his crash with Raikkonen, surprised that the Ferrari driver didn’t receive a penalty. Strong qualifying and pace but nothing he could do on his short Sunday afternoon.

Sergey Sirotkin – 7

Best weekend for the Russian rookie, albeit the mistake into the wall in third practice. Qualified strongly and was unfortunate to be in the sandwich between drivers on the first lap which ended his race early. Extremely harsh that he has received a 3 place grid penalty for the next race in Spain.

Summary

So Hamilton got his win in Baku through some strong luck, whilst Vettel through his decision to go big at the restart lost points. Hamilton now leads the Championship for the first time this year. 

My driver of the day is a very tough decision, my toughest yet this year, and it’ll go to Sergio Perez for his podium finish. It just shades Charles Leclerc’s impressive points finish. Red Bull really need to look at the current situation, once more through collisions they have cars not finishing. 

Cars tend to change quite dramatically at Barcelona and that is where the Formula 1 circus is next at. Will Red Bull kiss and make up or will the fire get bigger? Mclaren say big upgrade for Spain, will it work and push them forward? What upgrades will Mercedes have in store to catch up to Ferrari? We have to wait 2 weeks to find out.

?image courtesy of Sahara Force India. Fetured image courtesy of RedBull Content pool

Chinese Grand Prix Preview: It’s time for Mercedes to hit back against Vettel and Ferrari

Formula One rolls into Shanghai to complete the first back-to-back Grand Prix sequence of 2018.

In the Chinese year of the dog Sebastian Vettel has started like a greyhound with two wins from two race this season, while Mercedes are yet to show that their bark is as bad as their bite.

Valtteri Bottas missed the chance to pass Vettel on better tyres in the closing stages of the Bahrain Grand Prix after an error-strewn Australian Grand Prix, while a mixture of bad luck and reliability have hamstrung Lewis Hamilton in the early stages of this season.

Bottas will rue his missed chance in Bahrain

Ferrari have defied pre-season expectations that had them third in the Formula One pecking order after going in a different direction with car design including a longer wheelbase, a decision that appeared to have them playing catch up.

Last year in China, Hamilton got his title challenge underway with victory in a wet-dry race as Vettel got some overtaking done after serving a penalty for a jump start to ignite a title fight between Ferrari and Mercedes.

Ferrari have four wins in Shanghai from 14 races, although only one in the last 11 years courtesy of Fernando Alonso’s victory in 2013.

Mercedes have won five of the last six races in China with Lewis Hamilton claiming three of those.

Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool
Red Bull will be aching to get back on track after a disappointing start

But what of Red Bull? Their race pace is on or close to that of Ferrari and Mercedes if you believe Free Practice times.

Problem is, they cannot get their cars into position. Daniel Ricciardo was penalised in Australia and was another VSC beneficiary in Australia, while Max Verstappen spent a lot of time behind the Haas of Kevin Magnussen and then latterly McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.

The least said about their Bahrain Grand Prix, the better. Ricciardo did nothing wrong and retired after a couple of laps, Verstappen retired after contact with Lewis Hamilton after chucking his Red Bull at a wall in qualifying.

Pierre Gasly’s stunning weekend in Bahrain has raised Toro Rosso expectations

Toro Rosso say they expect to be quick based on Bahrain, where Pierre Gasly secured an amazing fourth place to change not only the expectations of the team but the perceptions of the Honda Power Unit.

Renault and McLaren also look to be strong contenders for points, with McLaren having four points finishes from two races to show plenty of improvement from a disastrous Honda partnership.

Alonso is a man reborn, while Stoffel Vandoorne has added consistency this season to the flashes of speed shown from the middle of last year.

 

Prentice’s Picks: F1 curtain-raiser in Australia poses more questions than answers

The Australian Grand Prix failed to give observers much of a concrete answer as to this year’s exact running order despite Sebastian Vettel’s second successive win at Albert Park.

Yes, Lewis Hamilton had a clear pace advantage in qualifying and wasn’t uncomfortable in the race, but the Red Bulls were hamstrung while it is understood that Ferrari haven’t unlocked the full potential of their new car design just yet.

Unlike last year, Ferrari won when they weren’t the fastest, something Hamilton did on multiple occasions last season. However, the Scuderia were not without a huge slice of luck.

Vettel’s victory came in fortunate circumstances 

The Virtual Safety deployed midway through the race to recover the stricken Haas duo (more on them later) of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean slowed the race down as drivers were not to exceed a certain speed.

That meant that the impact of a pitstop lessened significantly. Where it would have cost Vettel 25 seconds to pit at normal racing speeds, at VSC speeds the cost was 11 seconds.

Vettel was 12 seconds clear of Hamilton. Ferrari had judged the maths perfectly, and a software glitch confused Mercedes.

Since then, there have been calls to ban pitting under the VSC.

This is not the first time that the VSC has changed the game during a race, if not quite to this extent.

Other beneficiaries include Daniel Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso, both of whom had not pitted and as a result made net gains. Ricciardo was fourth, with Alonso fifth.

The VSC adds a potential variable to a sport that is currently desperately lacking in those at present. It turned what was fast becoming a predictable race into one that had a battle for the lead…..until Hamilton was restricted by the lack of spare Power Unit elements and had to turn the wick down.

It was a case of what might have been for Haas in Melbourne, as the team emerged as early contenders for best of the rest but ended up plum last in the Constructors’ are two catastrophic pitstops.

Glenn Dunbar/LAT Images/Haas F1 Media
Haas were desperately unlucky to score nothing in Melbourne

Magnussen was fourth, just a second clear of teammate Grosjean as the two promised much for a team intent on building upon a solid first two seasons in the sport.

Grosjean commiserated and rallied the pit-crew member with what appeared to be the faulty wheelgun, and should Haas maintain their pace this will not hurt as much as it should.

Their task in staying fourth will get harder as the season wears on.

Watch out…..Fernando has his mojo back.
Steven Tee/LAT Images/McLaren Media

McLaren secured a double-points finish despite running nowhere near full wick because of (you guessed it) reliability worries from testing.

Due to the late switch to Renault Power Units, there’s still more to come from their chassis too, and in Fernando Alonso they have a man on the front foot.

It has not been difficult to notice a change in the Spaniard’s demeanour, encapsulated perfectly in his “speak up, don’t lose energy” and “now we can fight” messages on Sunday.

It’s good to have him back.

What goes around comes around

Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel are in party mode, after an unexpected victory in the first race of the 2018 season in Melbourne.

The German driver, qualified third, behind his team-mate and the 2017 world champion, Lewis Hamilton. The Italians took a risk and split the strategy between the drivers, Kimi Raikkonen pitted on lap 21, switched from ultrasofts to softs, Mercedes called Lewis Hamilton into the pits right after Kimi’s stop. Sebastian Vettel, remained on track for some extra laps, on the 25th lap Kevin Magnussen pitted from the fourth position, a few meters after Kevin re-joined the track, forced to step aside and park his car due to an error during the pit-stop.

A couple of laps later, Romain Grosjean pitted for a fresh set of supersofts tyres, but he copied his team-mate exact footsteps, Romain parked his car and retired from the race, for the same reason as Kevin Magnussen, loose wheels, after the pit-stop. The wheels on both cars were not being placed correctly before the nuts were tightened.

The only difference between Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, retirement, was the Grosjean’s car could not be easily recovered, hence the VSC deployed followed by a safety car.

During the VSC period, Sebastian Vettel pitted, that gave him a 10 second advantage over Lewis Hamilton. The German, re-join ahead of the Mercedes and he was leading the race. Hamilton pushed hard, after the SC, to catch and pass Vettel, the British champion was very close to Vettel’s Ferrari, but a small driving error cost him time and he also lost pace in the final laps of the race.

Sebastian Vettel celebrated a second consecutive victory in Australia and started the 2018 year with the same way he did in 2017.

A poor strategy, cost the chance to Red Bull to be competitive and score a podium in Australia. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen started the race on supersofts, Verstappen and Ricciardo qualified fourth and eighth respectively. A three place grid penalty was given to Daniel Ricciardo for failing to slow down for a red flag, during free practice.

The Dutch, was not quick enough to challenge the two Ferraris in the opening lap, at turn one on the tenth lap, Max spun his Red Bull and lost places. He was unable to recover, as he was also facing unbalance issues caused by the damaged floor on his car.

Daniel Ricciardo wanted to finish on the podium in his home race, after the retirement of the two Haas, the Australian was fourth behind Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn, had to defend his position as Daniel was on his tail for most of the time in the final laps of the Grand Prix.

At the end, Ricciardo finished fourth and Max Verstappen sixth, behind Fernando Alonso.

Double point finish for McLaren

For the first time since 2014, McLaren scored points in Melbourne. The fifth place that Alonso took matched his best ever result in three years with Honda power. McLaren, couldn’t imagine a better start, Alonso and Vandoorne scored 12 points combined in the opening race of the 2018 season.

Furthermore, Fernando Alonso had the pace to hold back a Red Bull and he finished ahead of Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes.

The outcome of the race affected by the VSC and Haas retirements, personally I was impressed with the pace the American team showed in the first laps of the Grand Prix and I would like to see them racing until the chequered flag.

It is still too early to judge, but I will take the risk to say that Asia will play a key role in the championship. If Ferrari has learnt from their mistakes, this year will be very interesting till the final chequered flag.